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October 23, 2008

She works hard for the money...

So there's yet another Sarah Palin scandal in the news. If there's one thing I can say about her, it's that she certainly gives the media a lot to talk about!

Apparently, Governor Palin's expense reports are being investigated because since taking office in December 2006, she has charged the state of Alaska over $20,000 in airfare for her three daughters (in addition to who-knows-how-much in other travel costs, such as hotel rooms). Although there is no law that specifically addresses a governor's children, there is a law that allows for payment of expenses of anyone conducting official state business. Palin justified charging the state for her daughters' travel by noting on expense reports that the girls had been invited to attend or participated in an official capacity.

Of course, I don't know if watching Todd Palin compete in a snowmobile race can be considered "official business". Organizers of some of the events said that the Palin children were not invited and that they either showed up unexpectedly or that Governor Palin had requested that they be allowed to attend. Some organizers also refuted Palin's claims that her children were on official business, by indicating that they merely accompanied their mother and did not participate.

What also makes this whole thing a little extra fishy, is that on August 6 (three weeks before being named as McCain's running mate), Governor Palin ordered changes to the expense reports for her daughters' travel - specifying that the girls were on official business at each event by adding phrases like "First Family invited" or "in official capacity helping".

I'm actually sort of torn on this issue. On the one hand, she shouldn't be charging the state for events that her children were not invited to or that they attended just to be with her. But on the other hand, I don't blame her for wanting to spend as much time with her family as possible, even if that has to include taking them "to work" with her (of course, in this case, going to work with mom sometimes entailed spending a week at the Ritz Carlton or Essex House). I feel like as a female candidate, she does face somewhat of a "you can't win" situation here because if she left them with a nanny or their father for weeks at a time, she'd be criticized for that. Also, would anyone even look into something like this if she was a man or would they say something like "Oh Governor Bob-whoever brought his daughter to this event, how nice"?

But now I'm almost defending her and I definitely don't want to defend Sarah Palin today. All that aside, I still think what she did was totally inappropriate and an abuse of the perks of being Governor. Unless her children were specifically invited to an event, the state shouldn't pay any of their expenses. Asking the organizer for permission to bring your kids (or just showing up with them unexpectedly) is not the same as being invited. The McCain-Palin campaign has been trying to explain this all away, but I'm not really buying it. A spokesman said that the governor's office has invitations requesting the family to attend some events... but he did not have any to provide. He also claimed that Bristol Palin had been sent a direct email invitation to attend Newsweek's Third Annual Women & Leadership Conference with her mother, but again, he was not able to provide it. A state spokeswoman said that Governor Palin saved Alaska money by flying coach.

Tony Knowles, former Governor of Alaska , said that he never charged the state for his children's travel expenses while he was in office, nor could he recall "any instance during my eight years as governor where it would have been appropriate to claim they performed state business".

I'd be interested to see what her own policies were as far as her staff. How does she feel about flex time and family leave and working from home and other ways to help working moms spend more time with their kids? We know she has often brought Trig to work with her... but would she allow one of her employees to bring their baby? We might try to research this and see what we come up with (we'll save that for another blog entry).

It's also interesting to note that Palin started charging the state for commercial flights after she kept a campaign promise to sell the state's luxury jet in order to cut the state budget. Of course, although she relentlessly criticized her predecessor, Frank Murkowski, during her gubernatorial campaign for making such an extravagant purchase, she ignored the fact that he shared the jet with the state's Public Safety Department and that she continued to travel on another state plane after the sale of the jet. Oh and that she sold the jet at a loss, not a profit (and not on eBay either).

She also billed Alaska over $13,000 over the last two years for attending church. (The Alaskan Lieutenant Governor attended some of the same events, but did not request payment because he felt it would be unethical). Her office defended the bills by suggesting that she was going to church on official government business, which at times consisted of ignoring the First Amendment's separation of church and state by telling churchgoers that she would use her power as Governor to enact "the will of God". At least one of those government-paid church visits was to her hometown church (the controversial Wasilla Assembly of God, allegedly linked to gay conversion groups).

The state has already been reviewing the $60 a day she received in per diem meal and travel payments for more than 300 nights that she spent at her own home in Wasilla (adding up to thousands of dollars). How'd she manage that? Through a loophole of course. Since the Palins split their time between Juneau and the Valley, with the governor often working in Juneau during the legislative session and in Anchorage for the rest of the year, the state considered Juneau to be the governer's "home base"... Therefore Palin was considered to be "traveling" while living in her own house.

At least one member of Palin's cabinet also accepted state money while staying in his hometown.

Tony Knowles, who leased out his Anchorage home while in office and moved his family to Juneau, said "When you're living at home, you don't pay yourself for living at home. And if you use a technicality to get around that rule so you can get paid for it, it's not right." When asked why she accepted the meal per diem while at home, a spokeswoman for Palin said "she's entitled to it". Now, maybe it's technically within the law, but it's kind of hypocritical considering that Palin has painted herself as a reformer of frivolous government spending and a "budget watchdog".

It's starting to look like Palin has no problem abusing the perks of being governor (regardless of whether that abuse is technically allowed, I still consider it to be abuse). We already know she's abused her power as governor in that whole Troopergate scandal, but at least she paid for that tanning bed with her own money.

We also know that the McCain-Palin campaign has spent over $150,000 on clothes and accessories for Palin and her family since being named the vice presidential candidate. (A review of the Obama-Biden campaign did not turn up similar spending). They have also spent about $5,000 on hair and makeup since September, but that's actually not such a high amount when you consider that the campaign paid over $14,000 to American Idol makeup artist, Tifanie White for making John McCain look a little less ancient this August and September. But at least neither of them spent $300,000 on a single outfit, like Cindy McCain did for the Republican National Convention.

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1 comment:

ceirdwenfc said...

I'd be interested to see what her own policies were as far as her staff. How does she feel about flex time and family leave and working from home and other ways to help working moms spend more time with their kids? We know she has often brought Trig to work with her... but would she allow one of her employees to bring their baby? We might try to research this and see what we come up with (we'll save that for another blog entry).

This is the most important statement made. How hypocritical was she? I was fired from a job because it didn't "work out," but I know the real reason was because on my second day, my son was sick, and I needed to stay home with him that afternoon and the next day. And I worked for the same day care at the time. Yes, you read that right. My employer sent him home because he was sick, and then was surprised when I went home with him. It was all downhill from there.

I hate defending Sarah Palin, but I do think she's being held to a higher standard than a male in the same position. No one asks Barack Obama who takes care of his children? No one is batting an eye this week as he travels to Hawaii to see his sick grandmother. If it were Palin, there would be questions, and because of her past behavior, they would be justified.

I just hate a double standard.